Part Twenty-One

    I find the girl Tomoe Sakura completely by accident. I was out driving this morning and swung by the Koneko no Sumu Ie just for the hell of it. The shop was closed for cleaning, with only the little old lady owner and Tsukiyono inside. And this Tomoe Sakura girl…She was outside. It was her thoughts that caught my attention, thoughts of overseeing our samurai killing someone. It was enough that I stopped the car a block down to dig around, curious for what all I would find. Apparently she’s known Ran for a long time now, and is quite devoted to him. Farfarello waits in silence as I dig, finding all of her connections to him. She’s watched over his sister before. Back when Weiss was confronting Takatori, Ran trusted her with his sister’s safety. He trusts her with his sister but not himself, I note with some amusement, skimming over a memory of a bad ending to her confessing her feelings.

    I’ve been thinking on her all day, watching her as she goes about on her errands. I could have just shrugged her off. Instead I passed her on to Crawford, offering him a mental picture and everything I’ve found out about her. He cannot get anything clear surrounding her but advises me to keep an eye on her. She knows a lot for a simple girl and has strong ties to both our samurai and the sleeping beauty, and with the ceremony less than a week away we’re grabbing at anything we can find. Right now the plan is crude out of a lack of anything else to do, and that is to just cause a big stir right in the middle of the ritual and kill the Elders, then deal with a pissed off Council. If we can find a better way to go about it, it would be great.

    I decide to see if I can prompt something useful out of her by taking control of the situation, thinking to bring her around key figures and see if it triggers anything from Crawford. I don’t have a lot of time to play with her. If I can’t get anything tonight we’ll abandon her as useless and turn back to Plan A. This in mind, I seek her out as she goes for a walk that night. I find her on a bridge over one of the main roads, and she’s so lost in thoughts that she doesn’t hear me approach. Her thoughts are on Ran, or ‘Aya’, as everyone else calls him.

    /You want to know about Aya, don’t you?/ I ask her, and she sends a startled look to her left. There’s no one there, of course, and I lean forward to prop folded arms on the railing of the bridge on her right. “If so, then follow me.”

    She whirls around, wide eyes taking in my bizarre appearance. “Who are you?”

    “A friend of Aya’s,” I answer easily.

    “Aya’s friend…?”

    I straighten and turn to face her, studying her with a serious expression. “He’s been acting a little weird these days, hasn’t he?” I ask her, and start towards the edge of the bridge. The wind is blowing much too strongly for me to want to chitchat with her out here. She gapes after me, not quite sure what to make of this, and then scurries to keep up.

    “Wait!” she says, but I don’t. It’s not like I’m walking too fast for her. She keeps a step behind me and to my side, wide eyes studying me. I ignore her scrutiny, staring straight ahead with a bland look on my face. There’s a small café at the edge of the bridge and I push the door open, gesturing for her to enter first. Uncertainty dances in her eyes but she obediently steps through, and I follow after her. I pull a picture of the female Aya from my pocket and set it down on a table as I pass before turning around to face Sakura, propping myself against the wall. Sakura stares down at the picture in surprise. “Wouldn’t you like to see her? If you want to meet her, I can take you.”

    “This is…”

    “Aya’s sister,” I finish for her when she falters. She looks up from the picture to stare at me, her face the perfect picture of confusion.

    “But I heard that his sister is missing…”

    I take a step forward and she leans back slightly, searching my face. I tug a chair back and seat myself at it. A waitress was bringing a tray to another table but ends up delivering the items to ours when I give her a mental tug. I survey the things she lays out before us and Sakura looks from me to the lady, a little startled about the woman appearing out of nowhere. There’s hot tea and a sundae. I flick my eyes towards the girl that ordered it. She was fired today and came to drown her sorrows. With a smirk, I push the ice cream off to one side. I’m not interested in the tea, either, so I slide it across the table towards Sakura. She seats herself, reaching out to touch the picture.

    “Are you afraid of me?” I ask her. She lifts her gaze back to me, biting down on her lower lip gently as she considers this question. She isn’t sure what to make of me, not sure whether she should trust me on this or not. “You’re willing to do anything for him, aren’t you? I know everything there is to know about Aya.”

    She reflects that I don’t seem at all the type of person Ran would befriend, but thinks that perhaps since I seem to know so much that maybe we really are acquaintances. I make her nervous, if not afraid. I beckon to her tea, offering her a lazy smirk and hooded green eyes. “Drink up,” I tell her. “It’s no good cold, and you’ll want something in you for the drive.”

    “I haven’t said I’ll go,” she protests quietly.

    “But we both know you will,” I return easily, pointing at her tea again. She hesitates for another moment, then looks down at the picture sitting in front of her and picks up the mug.

    There’s something about her, something very familiar about the curve of her face…


    The little princess has been moved out of Ikida’s clinic into an Estet research facility until it’s time for her to be taken to the tower. Ikida is here with Estet’s doctors, supervising her care. Nagi did indeed manage to put the syringe back where it belonged. He filled it with normal liquid and sent it flying back across the city, and since Ikida hasn’t reported one missing I know it made it there all right. Ikida would notice that it was gone. I spare a moment to feel smug on my telekinetic’s behalf as the elevator stops on the third floor, and I lead Sakura down the hall. She’s playing with her hair nervously, half of it pulled over one shoulder so she can curl her fingers through it. I keep my gift running over her mind, now and then sending little frozen images and thoughts Crawford’s way.

    I find the door to the observation room and push it open, stepping through and making my way to the glass wall on the other side. Sakura hangs back, caution eating at her. She’s wondering what she’s doing here, wondering how she could have just agreed to follow a complete stranger across town like this. I send her a glance over my shoulder before pointing towards the glass, and she swallows her uncertainties to move up beside me. All of her worries evaporate when she looks through the glass and spots Aya stretched out far below us. “Aya-chan!” she gasps out.

    “What do you say now?” I ask her, arching a brow at her. “Aren’t you glad you came? I haven’t lied since the day I was born.” Which, in itself, is a lie, but that doesn’t matter.

    “But why is she here?” Sakura wants to know, staring up at me.

    I slant a sideways look at her. “A lot of reasons,” I answer.

    ~I should hurry back and tell Aya about this,~ Sakura thinks, an edge of excitement to her words. Aya’s been a bit out of it and cold ever since his sister went missing, and she’s desperate to do something that will make him feel better. She’s sure he’ll be thrilled when she tells him where his sister is.

    “What’s the hurry?” I ask, and she sends me a startled glance. “There’s an order to how things must be done.”

    ~How could he know what I was thinking?~ Sakura wonders, baffled.

    “Besides,” I continue, ignoring that, “it would be best for her if you didn’t tell him.”

    “How could it be best?” she wants to know. “Aya is very worried about her!”

    “If she’s with him, she’ll be ruined.” If she’s with us, she’ll be ruined. Details, details. I look back towards the sleeping beauty. “What we’re doing is protecting her from him.”

    “Protecting her?” she echoes blankly.

    “Well…” I consider her for a few moments, giving the impression of one debating whether or not to speak. She watches my face in intent silence. At last I give a little sigh, reaching up to flick my bangs out of my face. “Keep it to yourself, but Aya happens to be part of an assassin group called Weiss.” She makes a startled, disbelieving sound that I ignore and I let my face slide into serious lines, looking out the window again to regard Aya. “I know he wants to earn money to treat his sister, but murder is a terrible way to go about it. Don’t you think so?”

    “You’re- you’re lying! That’s a lie!”

    “It isn’t,” I return easily, sending her a chiding look and poking through her mind to bring back the memory of watching Aya’s sword tear through one of their targets. “We need your cooperation. You might be able to help us with Aya.”

    “With Aya…” she murmurs, and looks away. She struggles with my words, turning the unwelcome news over in her head. After a long moment she makes a muffled, unhappy sound and squeezes her eyes shut. Fingers tangle in her hair, nervously twining the long locks into a braid. I give a small start when she’s finished, reaching out to catch her shoulder and turn her towards me. Her eyes fly open and she stares at me in mixed surprise and pain. A single braid rests over her shoulder; the other half hangs loose behind her still.

    “Finish it,” I tell her, pointing to the other half of her hair. She doesn’t understand, but trembling fingers make a second braid. I pull it around front, studying the way she looks with her hair braided. She looks out the window towards the sleeping Fujimiya girl as she thinks on my words some more.

    /Jesus, Crawford./

    No wonder she looked familiar earlier. I wonder if we can use this, wonder if we can twist this to our favor somehow. I can hear a hundred little ideas and what-if’s racing around the back of my mind and a slow, pleased smirk curls on my lips. I reach out to take Sakura’s chin in my hand and she looks up at me, the first tear rolling down her cheek.

    “You are going to help us,” I tell her, “whether you want to or not. If you truly want the best for everyone, then you’re going to do exactly as I say. Let’s go.” I lower my hand from her chin to catch her wrist, guiding her along behind me because I know she’d be hesitant to follow. I’m in no mood to wait on her; a strange sort of excitement dances in my veins.

    “Where are we going?” she manages to get out as I drag her towards the car. “Where are you taking me? S-stop! Let me go!”

    I get her to the car before I knock her out, using a small push of my gift to knock her unconscious. Twenty-five minutes later I reach our flat, and I come striding through the door with her hanging limply from my arms, her braids dangling. My team is eating dinner, and I tote our newest pet into the kitchen with a triumphant smirk on my face. Nagi leaps to his feet in alarm, immediately mistaking Sakura for Fujimiya Aya. It’s the reaction I expected. It’s the reaction I wanted. “Why do you have her?” he wants to know.

    Crawford looks over at her, studying her in silence for a long moment. “He doesn’t,” he says at last.

    “But who has to know?” I return.


    Sakura isn’t having the best of days. Crawford and I have been struggling with visions and ideas for the better part of five hours, fighting to get a plan that we’re sure will work. The Elders are landing in Japan tonight. Their followers have been trickling into Japan for a while now, venting their excitement by stirring up riots all over the place. Japan’s a mess right now, and it’s going to get a lot messier before it gets better. It will only get better if we can figure this out. Sakura has been sticking to Nagi like glue, judging him the safest of us four. She isn’t sure of my intentions, Crawford has done nothing to put her at ease, and Farfarello scares the hell out of her. So Nagi it is. At least it gives her something to do. Nagi seems to have a small cold of some sorts, and she distracts herself from the uncertainties of her present to tend to him. He shrugs off most of her concern but she keeps pushing, needing something normal to cling to. At last I issue Nagi a mental command to just humor her, as she’s starting to drive me batty, and he relents and seats himself grumpily at the table while she makes him hot tea. He only relents because he knows Crawford and I need to work- Nagi and Farfarello both know exactly what’s going on now. The time is close enough at hand that I’ve taken the bond and everything we’ve planned in it and melted it against their conscious minds.

    Sakura isn’t quite sure what to make of Tot, either, especially since Nagi refuses to talk about her. I don’t think Farfarello knows she’s here yet. I think she’s shut down far enough that there’s nothing for his newly awakened gift to pick up on. We’ve warned him not to try his power out. We don’t want Hoffmann catching it.

    It is a very long day but by the time we’re supposed to leave to escort the Elders away from the airport, I think we’ve finally got an idea. It’s insane, but so is the mere idea of turning against the Council. There isn’t a terrific chance of it succeeding, but it’s still worth a try. Weiss will be there, too… Wherever Fujimiya Aya goes, Ran will go. And Sakura is just one more girl he will protect, this little substitute for his sister that loves him so whole-heartedly.

    Nagi fetches his desk chair for Sakura for dinner and she ends up sitting between Nagi and Crawford. She touches very little of what is served for her and spends the rest of the time pushing it around, nervous eyes bouncing around the table to the rest of us. We ignore her, more interested in stuffing our faces. There are a million questions swarming around in her mind but I don’t answer any of them. I’m tired, strung out from rooting through so many visions with Crawford. He wrenched his gift again. We took every what if and forced it as far as it could go, searching for signs of failure. I know it hurts; I can see the hint of a glazed look in his eyes that tells me he’s got one mother of a migraine.

    After dinner, Nagi leaves to check on Tot, Farfarello goes to find a new weapon, and Crawford retrieves his jacket from his bedroom. It leaves Sakura and me by ourselves for a few moments and she looks up at me. The hints of tears are in her eyes. She doesn’t know what’s going on and she’s scared. I reach across the table towards her, fingers tangling loosely in her hair, and search her face. She has become another pivotal piece, another person that could change everything for us if we use her right.

    Just a few more days…Just a handful of days and this will all be over.

    And what will the results of this be? Something violent twists in my stomach, something halfway between eager anticipation and cold fear.

    “You have no clue what you’re getting into,” I murmur. She searches my eyes and I realize that she can see something’s off in my gaze. I offer her a thin little smirk, releasing her and rising to my feet. She stares up at me, regarding me in silence as she chews on my words and the sharp edge to my eyes. “I don’t think you’ll ever know…”

    “Schuldich-san…?” she asks. My name is mangled; she can’t pronounce it right. She speaks it hesitantly. I didn’t tell her my name. She must have heard it from Nagi. I stop in the doorway and look back at her, studying her in silence for a moment.

    “Do you believe in happy endings?” I ask her.

    The question surprises her. A thoughtful frown pulls at her mouth as she studies me. “Yes…?” comes her hesitant answer at last. She isn’t sure if that’s the answer I wanted to hear. “Don’t you?”

    So many years of hatred, so many months of careful planning, so much to lose… I remember Nagi protesting, telling Crawford that we could lose everything. Crawford’s answer had been that we had nothing to lose. But we could lose everything. In a handful of days everything will be decided. Will we still be alive then? Will we have our freedom? Or will the Council have won over us yet again? I offer her a toothy smirk, tucking my misgivings aside to worry on later.

    “Saa… I guess we’ll find out.”


    Welcome to the day before the world goes to hell. The tower is crowded with all sorts of people. The agents are staying here tonight so they will be here for tomorrow’s ritual. Rosenkreuz’s people have pulled out, as this ceremony is not for us. The only five associated with the Austrian school wandering these halls are Schwarz and Ikida. Ikida is tending to Aya and the Elders have summoned us to fret over the details. We assure them that everything is fine, that we have had absolutely no problems at all. They’re a bit uptight, as everything they’ve been working so hard for is about to be realized. They’re excited, but nervous at the same time.

    Schwarz isn’t doing any better. Or at least, Nagi and I aren’t doing any better. Crawford’s as composed as always and Farfarello seems to be indifferent to everything. Nagi keeps a smooth expression and I have my smirk glued in place, but Nagi’s thoughts are nervous and I’m running in mental circles myself. Tomorrow we are defying both Estet and the Council… Who wouldn’t be nervous? It makes me want to kick Crawford, that he can face so much and act like he isn’t bothered. At the same time, I’m grateful for his composure. I tell myself that things will be fine, that things will work out. Crawford is a rank eight precognitive, surely his visions would have told us if something’s about to go horrendously wrong.

    Well, something is going to go wrong, but that’s going to be because we make it do so. When we are released from the Elders we make our way back down the halls towards the rooms we’ll be staying in. Estet has graciously invited us to spend the night, and we are to attend the ceremony tomorrow as well. It is both for their protection and so we can see what we have been working so hard for. I’m sure the Council was invited, but knowing them they turned it down. They aren’t interested in dreams of immortality and psychic demons. They were drawn to Estet in the first place for funding. Estet poured a lot of money into Rosenkreuz and has been doing so for about forty years now. In return, they are our biggest client. We have other organizations to be hired to, but most of what Rosenkreuz does is for Estet. For years teams have been working all over the world, tending to people without realizing that the connections are there, without realizing that tomorrow is what all of our work has been building up to.

    Tonight we dine with the Council. The team that built the underground chambers and Schwarz have been summoned to eat with the four. It means Aine will be there, and I hope Farfarello obeys himself. Tomorrow… Tomorrow ends a lot of things.

    We retire to our rooms, as it is still a little too early to leave for the restaurant Hoffmann picked. Sakura is under my bed where the sheets hide her from anyone stupid enough to walk into our rooms. I’ve shut her down. It was the only thing to do to keep her from being detected. I let her eat breakfast and as the others moved to pack their clothes for the stay here, I whispered to her to make a future with us and shut her down. It was a bitch getting her in; there are so many people here that I had to cloak her from. Like Nagi, I rarely use my gift to the extent that it can be used. With my damaged shields, I have even less incentive to do so. I also really dislike the packed tower for the same reason.

    We’re dressed all in white, four matching suits. We settled on white because Nagi had his left over from when Adashi made us order them and because Crawford had a white suit as well. Majority won. Farfarello and I had to order new ones, as the blood never came out of mine and Farfarello obliterated his. I pick at it as I perch on my mattress, studying my teammates with thoughtful green eyes. They glance my way when they realize they’re being watched, and soon the four of us are staring at each other in contemplative silence. Finally Nagi puts words to his unease.

    “Can we do this?” he wants to know.

    “Whether we can or we can’t, we will,” is Crawford’s response.

    “Wow,” I declare. “Whenever I decide I need some reassurance, remind me not to come knocking on your door for it.” Crawford ignores that and I look back at Nagi, who seats himself on the edge of Farfarello’s bed. We’ve been doubled up for our stay here, Nagi and Crawford in one room and Farfarello and me in the other. Nagi reaches up, pushes his bangs out of his face, and rubs at his eyes. Still sick, I guess, and a sucky time to be it. Or maybe he’s just worried about Tot.

    I send the tease at him and he lowers his hands to eye me. ~Just promise me you’ll survive tomorrow,~ he says, ~at least long enough to wake her back up.~

    I just roll my eyes. /You’ve got flattering priorities, you know that?/


    I’m laughing before I even make it back to my room after dinner. My teammates regard me with varying degrees of amusement and tolerance as I sag against the nearest wall for balance. Dinner was… something else. Amusing and dangerous all in one. It had been a silent affair; no one had said a damn thing. We started with sixteen people, but only fifteen had walked away. Mosuli didn’t order his dinner off the menu- he used his telekinesis to snap one of the pyrokinetic’s neck and the rest of us had pretended not to see him chewing on the man at the far end of the table. Aine, of course, had picked the seat besides Farfarello. He behaved; he didn’t react badly when she leaned to one side, resting against his shoulder as she ate. He acted like things were fine, that they were normal, that tomorrow we’re not about to destroy a lot of things, Aine included.

    As we were leaving Hoffmann told us where the Council would be during the ceremony and gave Crawford the number. He is to keep them informed. Crawford threw the phone number away before we even made it back here.

    There are people still wandering in the halls, and my laughter attracts stares from them. They’re careful not to stare for too long. They know who we are, and they don’t want anything to do with us. Finally I manage to get my amusement under control and straighten, turning around to prop my back against the wall. I flash my teammates a wicked grin and Crawford studies me a few moments before dismissing Nagi and Farfarello with a small wave of his hand. Nagi gives me a searching look before heading away. Farfarello doesn’t look back. Crawford moves closer, coming to stand right in front of me, and I stare up at him.

    It’s hysterical, really, and in the same breath, not funny at all.

    /We’re all going to die tomorrow,/ I declare, my mental voice sounding highly entertained.

    ~You don’t know that.~

    /I suppose you can see it otherwise?/ I ask, arching a brow at him. /Arrogant bastards, that’s all we are. Arrogant pricks who think somehow we can fuck with a power like the Council without any consequences…/

    ~You made the decision,~ Crawford tells me. ~You made the call. You have known what the Council is capable of for years but this is still what you opted to do. You chose it because once upon a time you believed in it.~

    /What I chose is going to get them killed,/ I say, with a little jerk of my head to indicate our teammates.

    ~Then let them die,~ is his simple answer, and I frown at him, surprised by his answer. There’s a slight frown on his face, disapproval, I think- pointed towards me and this case of bitter nerves. ~They will. They chose to stand with us and if they die for it, then it’s because they believe in what you want to do, because they believe in the unit and in you.~

    I look away from him at that, lowering my gaze and studying something past his elbow. We have no clue how tomorrow is going to turn out, and if things turn out for the worse… No matter what Crawford says, this was my call. Crawford offered, I accepted, and we have pulled our teammates into doing this. It has never really been their decision… It was ours, and when Aine steps forward to challenge us, and if they die for it tomorrow…

    Then it was my call, and my call that will have gotten them killed.

    ~You cannot turn back,~ Crawford tells me. ~And if you tried to, do you think either of them would let you? They have not worked so hard and sacrificed so much just for you to second guess everything now. Get it together, go to sleep, and when you wake up tomorrow remember why you’re doing this.~

    With that, he takes a step away from me. I only let him get two steps further before I push away from the wall, grabbing his elbow to yank him back towards me. I need to feel him, need to taste him right now. And maybe he understands that, because he doesn’t resist me when I pull his face down and kiss him. “Don’t die tomorrow,” I murmur against his lips. “I’ve still got some empathy to undo. If you and he both die tomorrow, then he’ll still have won and I won’t ever forgive you for that.”

    With that, I release him and slide past, vanishing down the hall towards my room.

Part 22
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